A ball joint is one of the car parts that you don’t usually see. Similar to a ball and socket in the body, it helps connect two important parts of the car – the wheel and the suspension. Learn more about ball joints and what you need to know when replacing it here.
Ball Joints Explained
First of all, what is a ball joint? A ball joint is a round steel ball that is enclosed in metal. It is found between the pivot of your car’s wheels and its suspension. The purpose of a ball joint is to aid in steering by connecting the two critical parts of the car – the wheels and suspension. It helps in steering by allowing the spindles to pivot when you steer your car to any direction. Since it is connected to the wheels, you can say that the ball joint also aids in disseminating your car’s weight to its four wheels.
Because of the purpose it serves, a ball joint is found in every car. The number of ball joints your car has depends on the type of suspension your car uses. If your car has a short-long arm suspension, then it has a total of four ball joints. Two ball joints are found on each wheel – one as the upper ball joint and the other as the lower ball joint. On the other hand, if your car is strut-equipped, then it usually has two lower joints found in the front suspension.
Types of Ball Joints
There are two types of ball joints, namely, loaded ball joints and follower ball joints. A loaded ball joint means that it carries weight. The lower ball joint usually has this additional weight. The cars that often have a loaded ball joint are rear-wheel-drive cars and trucks. The other type is the follower ball joint also known as unloaded ball joint. Unlike the loaded one, this does not carry any weight. Even the lower ball joint does not support any weight of the car.
Depending on the kind of car you have, you can either have both a loaded and unloaded ball joint. For some, the one that aids in the car’s weight is the upper ball joint instead of the usual lower ball joint.
Lubricating a Ball Joint
What’s great about ball joints is that they don’t have to undergo an annual or quarterly maintenance. If your car is new, then most likely they are sealed. A sealed ball joint is more protected because the grease does not get consumed right away. However, older cars need to be greased after driving for several miles as it needs lubrication to function properly. Most cars have their recommended interval on when to replace or lubricate the ball joint. This can be in the form of time or the number of miles your car has driven.
Symptoms of a Damaged Ball Joint
To know if a ball joint replacement is due, you should first know what symptoms you should be looking for that will prompt you for a replacement.
The most common symptom is a clunking noise. You will notice this when you drive over bumps or humps and you hear a clunking or knocking noise. This is a common indicator that your ball joints need to be repaired or replaced.
Another symptom is uneven tire wear or irregular tire wear. Tires have their own lifespan. But regardless of the tires you have, they should not be wearing out so easily nor should one tire get damaged while the rest are working perfectly. If you notice that only one tire is damaged, then the ball joint there needs to be replaced.
Lastly, a replacement is needed when you notice your car giving a pull when you drive. This is because a damaged ball joint will make it harder for your car to steer into a certain direction. You will usually feel resistance or difficulty in steering when this happens. You will also notice that your car drifts to the side. When driving in a straight direction, you will feel that your car somehow goes to the one side even if you are not steering. This is a sign that one or some of your ball joints already need replacement.
When you experience one or all of these symptoms, it’s a sign that you need to replace your ball joints.
Replacing a Ball Joint
A ball joint replacement cost varies depending on the model and make of your car. If your car has four ball joints, then it will definitely cost more. However, the average price to replace one ball joint is $200. This can still go up or down. If you plan on replacing four ball joints, then this can amount to $1000 or more. Usually, mechanics include an alignment when replacing ball joints.
What you should know is that you do not need to replace all the ball joints at the same time. In fact, your car can run properly even if you just replace the ones that are faulty. But you should also never ignore a damaged ball joint. In worst-case scenarios, a damaged ball joint can lead to a tire falling off your car. In this case, the ball joint fails and becomes unable to connect your tires to the suspension.
To add to that, a ball joint still goes through regular wear and tear. Although you don’t need to get it maintained quarterly, there is still a lot of strain that goes through that pivot. This is especially true for the loaded ball joints. Most of the time, the ball joint that carries weight goes through faster wear and tear. Your ball joints can also go through rusting which is natural for metals even if they are stainless steel. There are a lot of things that can accelerate the rusting process like dirt and grease that escapes from the ball joint area.
While ball joints can be hard to understand for first-time car owners, you can always visit a mechanic and get it checked. It also helps to do a little research so you have more knowledge about it.
- How to Check Suspension Ball Joints – YourMechanic Advice
- How Do I Know If I Need to Replace My Car’s Ball Joints? – Angie’s List